Energy burden is measured as the percentage of household income that is spent on energy bills. High energy burden occurs when more than 6% of household income goes toward energy costs, and levels above 10.9% are considered extremely high. The 6% affordability threshold comes from a 2003 research analysis which has become the standard for energy burden discussions and research.
Utility providers can reduce the energy burden of customers or member-owners with decisions they make about things like rates or efficiency programs. Like many other issues, energy burden is not equal across all demographics.
High energy burden does not have to be the norm. We encourage individuals, utilities and cooperatives to seek energy efficiency solutions and equitable rate structures that not only keep energy burden disparities in mind but also seek to decrease that burden at its root causes. Programs such as Pay As You Save (PAYS), which we included in our scorecard, have the goal of reducing energy burden in a way that is accessible to everyone, through homeowner upgrades funded using on-bill tariffs and a co-op partnership program. Home weatherization and low-income home retrofits are also ways of directly lowering energy burden through increased efficiency.
We hope this map is eye-opening and helpful, and we hope it motivates a desire for more just utility programs and rate structures where no one faces a high energy burden.